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Context of 'May 29, 1972: ’Plumbers’ Begin Monitoring Democrats'

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Frank Sturgis, one of the Watergate burglars.Frank Sturgis, one of the Watergate burglars. [Source: Bettmann / Corbis]A covert unit of President Nixon’s “Plumbers” installs surveillance equipment in the headquarters of the Democratic National Committee in Washington’s Watergate hotel and office complex. The Washington police report an attempt to unscrew a lock on the door of the Committee’s office between 11 p.m. and 8 a.m., but do not know as yet who tried to force the lock. Some of the five men caught burglarizing the same offices six weeks later (see 2:30 a.m.June 17, 1972) are currently registered at the Watergate Hotel, according to subsequent police investigations. [Washington Post, 6/18/1972; Gerald R. Ford Library and Museum, 7/3/2007]
Change of Plans - According to one of the burglary team (see April-June 1972), Eugenio Martinez, the original plan centers on a fake “banquet” in the Watergate hotel for their fake company, the Ameritus Corporation, to be held in a private dining room that has access to the elevators. While team leader and White House aide E. Howard Hunt hosts the banquet, Martinez and the other burglars will use the elevator to go to the DNC offices and “complete the mission.” Virgilio Gonzalez, a locksmith, will open the door; Frank Sturgis, Reinaldo Pico, and Felipe de Diego will act as lookouts; Bernard Barker will get the documents; Martinez will take photographs; and James McCord will “do his job,” apparently involving electronics that Martinez does not understand.
First Time Failure - Apparently they do not follow their plan. Instead, Hunt and the seven members of what Martinez calls “McCord’s army” enter the Watergate complex at midnight, and they enter and sign in under the eye of a policeman. McCord explains that they are all going to work at the Federal Reserve offices on the eighth floor, an explanation Martinez feels is shaky. They are unable to get in through the doors of the sixth floor, and are forced to cancel the operation. Martinez recalls that while the others attempt to get in to the sixth floor, McCord is busy doing something else on the eighth floor; at 2 a.m., he sees McCord on the eighth floor talking to two guards. What McCord is doing, Martinez does not know. “I did not ask questions, but I thought maybe McCord was working there,” he will later recall. “It was the only thing that made sense. He was the one who led us to the place and it would not have made sense for us to have rooms at the Watergate and go on this operation if there was not someone there on the inside.” Hunt is furious at the failure to get into the DNC offices, and reschedules the operation for the next night. Gonzales flies to Miami and brings back his entire set of lockpicking tools. Martinez questions the laxity of the plan—the lack of floor plans, information about the elevators, knowledge of the guards’ schedules, and no contingency plans for failure. Hunt tells him, through Barker: “You are an operative. Your mission is to do what you are told and not to ask questions.”
Success - The second try is successful. Gonzalez and Sturgis get through the doors and usher everyone in, with one of them calling over their walkie-talkie, “The horse is in the house.” Martinez recalls taking “thirty or forty” photographs of campaign contributor documents, and McCord plants three phone taps, telling the others that while the first two might be discovered, the third will not. They return to their hotel rooms about 5 a.m. [Harper's, 10/1974]

Entity Tags: Reinaldo Pico, US Federal Reserve, Richard M. Nixon, Felipe de Diego, Democratic National Committee, Bernard Barker, ’Plumbers’, Frank Sturgis, James McCord, E. Howard Hunt, Eugenio Martinez

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties, Nixon and Watergate, Elections Before 2000

Alfred Baldwin.Alfred Baldwin. [Source: Spartacus Educational]After the “Plumbers” successfully install surveillance devices in the Watergate offices of the Democratic National Committee (see May 27-28, 1972), one of their associates, Alfred Baldwin—also an employee of the Nixon campaign—begins monitoring spoken and telephone conversations taking place inside the Democrats’ offices. [O.T. Jacobson, 7/5/1974 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Alfred Baldwin, Democratic National Committee, ’Plumbers’, Committee to Re-elect the President

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties, Nixon and Watergate

According to later testimony to Watergate investigators, the deputy director of the Committee to Re-elect the President (CREEP), Jeb Magruder, delivers the logs of the wiretaps being secretly conducted on the Democrats by the “Plumbers” (see May 27-28, 1972 and May 29, 1972) to CREEP chairman John Mitchell. The wiretaps are code-named “Gemstone” (see September 29, 1972). Magruder also delivers photos taken inside the Democrats’ headquarters to Mitchell. Mitchell will deny ever receiving any of this material. [O.T. Jacobson, 7/5/1974 pdf file]

Entity Tags: ’Plumbers’, John Mitchell, Jeb S. Magruder, Committee to Re-elect the President

Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate

The FBI learns that a hotel room in the Howard Johnsons Motor Lodge across the street from the Watergate hotel and office complex was rented by “McCord Associates,” the name of the security firm owned by Watergate burglar James McCord (see 2:30 a.m.June 17, 1972 and June 17, 1972). FBI agents quickly trace telephone calls from the room and locate the man who stayed in the room, Alfred Baldwin, who proves to have monitored the surveillance equipment installed in the Democratic National Committee headquarters (see May 29, 1972). [O.T. Jacobson, 7/5/1974 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Alfred Baldwin, Federal Bureau of Investigation, James McCord, Democratic National Committee

Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate

Watergate surveillance man Alfred Baldwin (see May 29, 1972) confesses to his role in the electronic eavesdropping on Democrats in the Watergate office complex. Baldwin tells FBI agents that he worked directly for burglar James McCord, and also had contact with two other burglars, E. Howard Hunt and G. Gordon Liddy. Baldwin’s statement is the first direct link for FBI investigators between the burglary and Hunt and Liddy. [O.T. Jacobson, 7/5/1974 pdf file]

Entity Tags: E. Howard Hunt, Alfred Baldwin, James McCord, Federal Bureau of Investigation, G. Gordon Liddy

Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate

After the press reports that the Watergate burglars will receive cash payments in return for their guilty pleas and their silence (see January 8-9, 1973 and January 8-11, 1973), Judge John Sirica angrily grills the four Miami-based defendants in court about the claims. To a man, they deny any pressure to plead guilty, any knowledge of cash payments to themselves or their families, and any knowledge of discussions of possible executive clemency. Defendant Virgilio Gonzalez even denies being a former CIA agent, when evidence has already established that he was on a $100/month retainer by the agency until the day after the Watergate burglary. (Defendant G. Gordon Liddy laughs aloud when Gonzalez makes this claim.) Gonzalez claims that the entire Watergate operation was somehow involved with the Communist regime of Cuba: Gonzalez says he is committed to “protect[ing] this country against any Communist conspiracy.” Sirica rolls his eyes in disbelief. Gonzalez claims not to know any specifics of the supposed connection between the Democrats and Castro’s Cuba, and says that he trusted the judgement of his superiors, Liddy and E. Howard Hunt. Fellow defendant Bernard Barker claims that none of them were paid for their actions: “These are not men that sell themselves for money,” Barker states. Barker confirms that he worked for Hunt, and says it was an honor for him to perform such a service. Washington Post reporters Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward later write, “The prosecutors’ assurances that everything would come out at the trial were fading into nothingness, as the defendants ducked into the haze of their guilty pleas.” The five who pled guilty are led off to jail before their bail and sentencing hearings. [Bernstein and Woodward, 1974, pp. 233-235; Gerald R. Ford Library and Museum, 7/3/2007] In his Watergate grand jury testimony, White House counsel John Dean will say that President Nixon approved executive clemency for Hunt in December 1972 (see January 10, 1973). [Bernstein and Woodward, 1974, pp. 312] In 1974, Barker will write that while in jail, James McCord is their group leader, but they do not fully trust him, partly because he is “very friendly with Alfred Baldwin, and to us Baldwin was the first informer” (see May 29, 1972). Another disconnection between McCord and the Cubans is his lack of participation in the Ellsberg burglary (see September 9, 1971). [Harper's, 10/1974]

Entity Tags: James McCord, Bob Woodward, Bernard Barker, Alfred Baldwin, Carl Bernstein, G. Gordon Liddy, Richard M. Nixon, Virgilio Gonzalez, E. Howard Hunt, John Sirica, John Dean

Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate

The Justice Department’s Office of Planning and Evaluation (OPE) submits a report on the role and actions of the FBI in the Watergate investigations. The report finds that, even with the attempts of former Attorneys General John Mitchell and Richard Kleindienst, White House aides John Dean and Jeb Magruder, and others to “mislead and thwart the Bureau’s legitimate line of inquiry,” and the “contrived covers” used to direct attention away from the White House, the FBI investigation was “the ultimate key to the solution of not only the Watergate break-in (see 2:30 a.m.June 17, 1972) but the cover itself.” The report continues: “There can be no question that the actions of former Attorneys General Mitchell and Kleindienst served to thwart and/or impede the Bureau’s investigative effort. The actions of John W. Dean at the White House and Jeb S. Magruder at the Committee to Re-elect the President were purposefully designed to mislead and thwart the Bureau’s legitimate line of inquiry. At every stage of the investigation there were contrived covers placed in order to mislead the investigators.” The OPE notes the following problems in the investigation, and provides explanations of some:
bullet Providing information concerning ongoing investigations to the White House, and allowing Dean to actually sit in on interviews of White House personnel (see June 22, 1972).
bullet Failing to interview key members of CREEP, the Nixon re-election campaign organization, as well as allowing CREEP attorneys to sit in on interviews of CREEP employees and allowing those attorneys access to FBI investigative materials. The report says that the investigation initially focused on James McCord and E. Howard Hunt, and interviewed CREEP officials tied directly to them. The net was widened later on. However, the report acknowledges that many CREEP employees undoubtedly lied to FBI investigators, “most notably John Mitchell, Jeb Magruder, Bart Porter, Sally Harmony, and Maurice Stans.” Porter and Magruder in particular “lied most convincingly.” Another CREEP employee, Robert Reisner (Magruder’s assistant), was not interviewed because Reisner successfully hid from FBI investigators. The FBI believes it was Reisner who cleaned out the “Operation Gemstone” files from Magruder’s office (see January 29, 1972 and September 29, 1972). Numerous other financial and other files were also destroyed after being requested by the FBI, most notably Alfred Baldwin’s surveillance tapes and logs from the Democratic offices in the Watergate (see May 29, 1972). Many of these files were destroyed by G. Gordon Liddy. “It is apparent that most [CREEP] people in the summer of 1972 were quite willing to lie and/or tell us considerably less than the full truth,” the report notes.
bullet An untenable delay in searching and securing Watergate burglar E. Howard Hunt’s desk in the White House, putting the contents of that desk at risk of being removed, and the “[a]lleged activities by former Acting Director [L. Patrick] Gray to limit, contain, or obstruct FBI investigation of Watergate” (see June 22, 1972). Gray is known to have destroyed materials from Hunt’s desk given to him by Dean, and is known to have extensively interfered with the FBI’s investigation (see June 28-29, 1972 and Late December 1972). The report notes that while it cannot find specific evidence that Gray broke any laws in his attempts to impede the FBI’s investigation into the Watergate conspiracy, it is clear that Gray cooperated with the White House, specifically through Dean, to ensure that the White House was always aware of what avenues of investigation were being pursued. The OPE says that Gray’s destruction of files from Hunt’s safe did not necessarily impede the FBI’s investigation, because it has no way of knowing what was in those files. The report says that it is unfortunate that “many people make no distinction between the FBI’s actions and Mr. Gray’s actions.”
bullet Failure to interview key individuals with knowledge of the suspicious monies found in the burglars’ bank accounts.
bullet Failing to secure and execute search warrants for the burglars’ homes, automobiles, and offices. The OPE says that many of those issuing this criticism “should know better,” and claims that the FBI agents involved did their level best to obtain search warrants within the bounds of the law. The report notes that after the burglary, the assistant district attorney prosecuting the case, Earl Silbert, did not believe there was probable cause to search burglar James McCord’s home or office until after July 10, 1972, when Baldwin told the FBI that he had taken surveillance equipment to McCord’s home (see June 17, 1972). Even then, Silbert decided that because of the amount of time—23 days—that had expired, a search warrant would have been pointless.
bullet Failing to identify and interview a number of people listed in the burglars’ address books. The OPE report notes that the decision to interview far less than half of the names in the books was made by FBI agents in the Miami field office, and due to the “fast moving extensive investigation which was then being conducted,” the decision to only track down a selected few from the books was right and proper. The report notes that subsequent interviews by reporters of some of the people in the address books elicited no new information. The report also notes that Gray refused to countenance interviews of the remaining subjects in the address book while the trial of the seven burglars (see January 8-11, 1973) was underway.
bullet Failing to find and remove a surveillance device from the Democratic National Committee headquarters (see September 13, 1972). The OPE calls this failure “inexplicable.”
bullet Failure to thoroughly investigate CREEP agent Donald Segretti (see June 27, 1971, and Beyond) and other CREEP operatives. The OPE finds that because Segretti was initially uncooperative with FBI investigators, and because an “extensive investigation” turned up nothing to connect Segretti with the Watergate conspiracy, the agents chose not to continue looking into Segretti’s actions. Only after press reports named Segretti as part of a massive, White House-directed attempt to subvert the elections process (see October 7, 1972) did the FBI discuss reopening its investigation into Segretti. After reviewing its information, the FBI decided again not to bother with Segretti. The OPE finds that the decision was valid, because Segretti had not apparently broken any federal laws, and the FBI does not conduct violations of election laws unless specifically requested to do so by the Justice Department. The report also says that politics were a concern: by opening a large, extensive investigation into the Nixon campaign’s “dirty tricks,” that investigation might have impacted the upcoming presidential elections.
bullet Media leaks from within the FBI concerning key details about the investigation (see May 31, 2005). The report finds no evidence to pin the blame for the leaks on any particular individual. The report notes that New York Times reporter John Crewdson seemed to have unwarranted access to FBI documents and files, but says it has turned that matter over to another agency inside the bureau.
bullet Failing to interview, or adequately interview, key White House officials such as H. R. Haldeman, Charles Colson, Dwight Chapin, and others. The report justifies the decision not to interview Haldeman because the FBI had no information that Haldeman had any knowledge of, or involvement in, the burglary itself.
bullet “Alleged attempt on part of Department of Justice officials to limit, contain, or obstruct FBI investigation.” The report is particularly critical of Kleindienst’s concealment of his contact with Liddy about the burglary (see June 17, 1972).
bullet “Alleged attempt by CIA officials to interfere, contain, or impede FBI Watergate investigation.” The report notes that during the Senate Watergate Committee hearings, Republican co-chairman Howard Baker (R-TN) tried repeatedly to assert that the CIA was behind the burglary. The report calls Baker’s theory “intriguing” but says no evidence of CIA involvement on any operational level was ever found. The report notes that there is still no explanation for the discussions regarding the CIA paying the burglars (see June 26-29, 1972), or the CIA’s involvement with Hunt before the burglary—loaning him cameras, providing him with materials for a disguise, and helping Hunt get film from the first burglary developed. According to the report, Gray stopped the FBI from pursuing these leads. The FBI report says that the CIA involvement apparently had nothing to do with the Watergate burglary, but was more in support of Hunt’s activities with the Ellsberg break-in (see September 9, 1971).
bullet “Alleged activities on part of White House officials to limit, contain, or obstruct FBI Watergate investigation (Dean, Haldeman, Ehrlichman, Colson, et cetera).” The report notes, “There is absolutely no question but that the president’s most senior associates at the White House conspired with great success for nine months to obstruct our investigation.” The report says it was “common knowledge” throughout the investigation that the White House was paying only “lip service” to investigators’ requests for honest, complete answers; the report cites Dean as a specific offender. [O.T. Jacobson, 7/5/1974 pdf file]

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